Crossed, Page 20Ally Condie
He knew what I was thinking. “It’s not knowing how to write that makes you interesting,” he said. “It’s what you write.”
“But if everyone can write, I won’t be special,” I said.
“That isn’t the only thing that matters,” he said.
“You want to be special,” I said. Even then I knew. “You want to be the Pilot.”
“I want to be the Pilot so I can help people,” he told me.
Back then I nodded. I believed him. I think he might have believed himself, too.
Another memory flashes to mind: a time when I took a note around the village for my father, running it from place to place so the others could have a turn reading it. The paper said the time and place of the next meeting and my father burned it as soon as I came home.
“What’s this meeting about?” I asked my father.
“The farmers have refused again to join the Rising,” he said.
“What will you do?” my mother asked.
He loved the farmers. They, not the Rising, were the ones who taught him to write. But the Rising had approached him first back before we were Reclassified. They planned to fight and he loved to fight. “I’ll stay loyal to the Rising,” he said. “But I’ll still trade with the farmers.”
Indie leans forward and catches my eye. She gives me a slight smile and her hand rests on her pack, as though she’s just slipped something inside. What did she find?
I look at her until she turns away. Whatever it is, she’s not showing Cassia either. I’ll have to find out later.
A few months before the last firing, my father taught me to wire. That was his job—to repair the wiring on everything that fell apart in the village. Things broke often there and we were used to it. All our equipment was the leftovers from Society, just like us. The food-warming mechanisms in particular were always breaking. We even heard rumors that the meals the Society shipped us were mass-produced and contained standardized vitamins, nothing like the individually calibrated meals given to people back in the other Provinces.
“If you can do my jobs here,” he said, “like fixing the food machines and the heaters in the houses, I can keep traveling into the canyon. No one will tell the Society that it’s you working instead of me.”
“Not everyone is good with their hands,” my father said, sitting back. “You are. You come by it from both of us.”
I glanced over to where my mother painted and then looked back to the wires I held.
“I always knew what I wanted to do,” my father said. “I knew how low to score to get assigned to mechanical repair.”
“That was risky,” I said.
“It was,” he said, “but I always come out where I should.” He smiled at me and around him at the Outer Provinces, which he loved and where he belonged. Then he became serious. “Now. Let’s see if you can do what I did.”
I arranged the wires, the plastic tabs, and the timer the way he showed me, with one small alteration.
“Good,” my father said, sounding pleased. “You have intuition, too. The Society says it doesn’t really exist, but it does.”
The next book I pick up is heavy, engraved with the word LEDGER. I turn the pages carefully, beginning at the end and working my way backward.
Though I half expected it, it still hurts when I see his trades in there. I know them by his signature on the lines and by the dates mentioned. He was one of the last to keep trading with the farmers, even when life in the Outer Provinces became more and more dangerous. He thought that quitting would seem like a sign of weakness.
Like it says in the pamphlets, there’s always a Pilot, and others being groomed to take his or her place if the Pilot falls. My father was never the Pilot, but he was one of the people standing in line.
“Do what the Society tells you,” I said to him when I got older and could see how many risks he took. “Then we won’t get in trouble.”
But he couldn’t help himself. He was smart and cunning, but he was all action, no subtlety, and he never knew when to stop. I could see that even when I was a child. It wasn’t enough to go into the canyons to trade—he had to bring writing out. It wasn’t enough to teach me—he had to teach all the children and then their parents. It wasn’t enough to know of the Rising—he had to move it forward.
It was his fault we died. He pushed too hard and took too many risks. The people wouldn’t have been gathered together for a meeting if it weren’t for him.
And after that final firing, who came to get the survivors?
The Society. Not the Rising. I’ve seen how they leave you when they don’t need you anymore. I’m afraid of the Rising. Even more than that, I’m afraid of who I’d be in the Rising.
I walk over to where Indie stood when she slipped something into her pack. On the table in front of me sits a waterproof box full of maps.
I glance over at Indie. She’s moved on. Her fingers turn the pages of a book and her bent head reminds me of the bell of a yucca flower tipped down toward the ground.
“We’re running low on time,” I say, picking up the box. “I’m going to find a map for each of us to use in case we get separated.”
Cassia nods. She’s found something else interesting. I can’t see what it is, but I can see the joy in her face and the way her body tenses with excitement. The very idea of the Rising makes her come alive. It’s what she wants. Maybe it’s even what her grandfather wanted her to find.
I know you came into the Carving for me, Cassia. But the Rising is the one place I don’t know if I can go for you.
Ky puts a map down on the table and reaches for a little black charcoal pencil. “I found another one we can use,” he says to me as he begins marking the page. “I’ll have to update it. It’s a little old.”
I pick up another book and flip the pages, looking for something to help us, but somehow I end up composing a poem in my mind instead. It’s about Ky, not for him, and I find myself copying the mystery author’s style:
I marked a map for every death
For every ache and blow
My world was all a page of black
With nothing left of snow.
I look over at Ky. His hands move as quick and careful with marking the map as they do with writing, as sure as they move over me.
He doesn’t look up and I find myself wanting. I want him. And I want to know what he thinks and how he feels. Why does Ky have to be able to sit so silent, hold so still, see so much?
How can he both draw me in and keep me out?
“I need to go outside,” I say later, exhaling in frustration. We haven’t found anything concrete—only pages and pages of history and propaganda about the Rising and the Society and the farmers themselves. At first it was fascinating, but now I’m aware of the river outside rising higher and higher. My back aches, my head hurts, and I feel a small flutter of panic beginning in my chest. Am I losing my ability to sort? First the wrong decision about the blue tablets, now this. “Has the lightning stopped?”
“I think it has,” Ky says. “Let’s go see.”
In the cave full of food, Eli has curled up to sleep, packs filled with apples surrounding him.
Ky and I step outside. The rain comes down but the electricity has left the air. “We can move when it’s light,” he says.
I look over at him, at his dark profile lit faintly by the flashlight he carries. The Society would never know how to put this on a microcard. Belongs to the land. Knows how to run. They would never be able to write what he is.
“We still haven’t found anything.” I try to laugh. “If I ever go back, the Society will have to change my microcard. Exhibits exceptional promise in sorting would have to be deleted.”
“What you’re doing is more than sorting,” Ky says simply. “We should rest soon, if we can.”
He’s not as driven as I am to find the Rising, I realize. He’s trying to help me, but if I weren’t here
, he wouldn’t care at all about looking for a way to join with them.
I think suddenly of the words of that poem. I did not reach Thee.
I push the words away. I’m tired, that’s all, feeling fragile. And, I realize, I haven’t heard Ky’s complete story yet. He has reasons for feeling the way he does, but I don’t know all of them.
I think of all the things he can do—write, carve, paint—and suddenly, watching him stand in the dark at the edge of the empty settlement, something sorrowful washes over me. There is no place for someone like him in the Society, I think, for someone who can create. He can do so many things of incomparable value, things no one else can do, and the Society doesn’t care about that at all.
I wonder if, when Ky looks at this empty township, he sees a place where he could have belonged. Where he could have written with the others, where the beautiful girls in the paintings would have known how to dance.
“Ky,” I say, “I want to hear the rest of your story.”
“All of it?” he asks, his voice serious.
“Anything you want to tell me,” I say.
He looks at me. I lift his hand to my lips and kiss his knuckles, the scraped places on his palm. He closes his eyes.
“My mother painted with water,” he says. “And my father played with fire.”
As the rain comes down I let myself imagine a story for us. The one I would write if I could.
The two of them forgot about the Rising and stayed alone in the township. They walked through the empty buildings. They planted seeds in the spring and harvested in the fall. They put their feet in the stream. They had their fill of poetry. They whispered words to each other that echoed off the empty canyon walls. Their lips and hands touched whenever they wanted for as long as they wanted.
But even in my version of what should happen I can’t change who we are and the fact that there are others we love.
It didn’t take long for other people to appear in their minds. Bram watched them with sad, waiting eyes. Eli appeared. Their parents walked past, turning their heads for a glimpse of the children they loved.
And Xander was there, too.
Back inside the cave, Eli is awake and searching through the papers with Indie. “We can’t look forever,” he says. His voice sounds panicked. “The Society’s going to find us.”
“Just a little longer,” Cassia says. “I’m certain there’s something here.”
Indie puts down the book she held and lifts her pack to her shoulder. “I’m going down,” she says. “I’ll look in the houses again, see if there’s anything we missed.” Her eyes meet mine on her way out of the cave and I know Cassia notices.
“Do you think they’ve caught Hunter?” Eli asks.
“No,” I say. “I think Hunter will finish things on his terms somehow.”
Eli shivers. “That Cavern—it felt all wrong.”
“I know,” I say. Eli rubs his eyes with the heels of his hand and reaches for another book. “You should rest more, Eli,” I tell him. “We’ll keep looking.”
Eli stares up at the walls around us. “I wonder why they didn’t paint anything in here,” he says.
“Eli,” I say more firmly. “Rest.”
He rolls himself back up in a blanket, this time in the corner of the library cave to be near us. Cassia is careful to keep the light of the flashlight away from him. She has twisted her hair back out of her way and her eyes look shadowed with exhaustion.
“You should rest too,” I say.
“Something is here,” she says. “I have to find it.” She smiles at me. “I felt the same way when I was looking for you. Sometimes I think I’m strongest when I’m searching.”
It’s true. She is. I love that about her.
It’s why I had to lie to her about Xander’s secret. If I hadn’t, she wouldn’t have stopped trying to find out what it was.
I stand up. “I’m going to help Indie,” I tell Cassia. It’s time to find out what Indie is hiding.
“All right,” Cassia says. She lifts her hand from the book and lets the page she was reading become lost and unmarked. “Be careful.”
“I will,” I say. “I’ll be back soon.”
Indie’s not hard to find. A flickering light in one of the houses below gives her away, as she knew it would. I make my way down the cliff path, which has grown slippery with the rain.
When I get to the house I look in the window first. The glass pane is wavy with age and water, but I can see Indie inside. The flashlight sits next to her and in her hands she holds something else that gives off light.
She hears me coming. I knock the port out of her hand but my fingers don’t close around it in time. The port hits the ground but doesn’t break. Indie sighs in relief. “Go ahead,” she says. “Look at it if you want.”
She keeps her voice low. In it I hear the sound of wanting something very much. Underneath it I hear the sound of the river in the canyon. Indie reaches out and puts her hand on my arm. It is the first time I have ever seen her willingly touch someone, and it stops me from smashing the miniport against the floorboards.
I look at the screen and a familiar face looks back.
“Xander,” I say in surprise. “You have a picture of Xander. But how—” It only takes me a moment to realize what happened. “You stole Cassia’s microcard.”
“That’s what she helped me hide on the air ship,” Indie says, without a trace of guilt. “She didn’t know. I hid it in with her tablets, and I kept it until I had a way to see what was on it.” She reaches over and switches the port back off.
“Is this what you found in the library cave?” I ask her. “The miniport?”
She shakes her head. “I stole this before we came into the canyons.”
“I took it from the leader of the boys in the village the night before we ran. He should have been more careful. All Aberrations know how to steal.”
Not all, Indie, I think. Only some of us.
“Do they know where we are?” I ask. “Does it transmit location?” Vick and I were never sure what the miniports could do.
She shrugs. “I don’t think so. The Society’s coming anyway, after what happened in the Cavern. But the miniport isn’t what I wanted to show you. I was only passing time until you came.” I start to say something about how she shouldn’t have stolen from Cassia, but then Indie reaches into her pack and pulls out a folded square of a thick fabric. Canvas.
“This is what you need to see.” She unfolds the material. It’s a map. “I think it’s the way to the Rising,” she says. “Look.”
The words on the map are encoded, but the landscape is familiar: the edge of the Carving and the plain beyond. Instead of showing the mountains where the farmers went, it shows more of the stream where Vick died, which runs across the plain and down the map. The stream ends in a black inky darkness that has white coded words written across it. “I think that’s the ocean,” Indie says, touching the black space on the map. “And those words mark an island.”
“Why didn’t you give it to Cassia?” I ask. “She’s a sorter.”
“I wanted to give it to you,” Indie says. “Because of who you are.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
She shakes her head impatiently. “I know you can break the code. I know you can sort.”
Indie’s right. I can sort. Already I’ve figured out what the white words say: Turn Again Home.
It’s from the Tennyson poem. It’s Rising territory. Home, they’ve called it. And the way to get to it is by following the stream where the Society dropped poison and Vick died.
“How do you know I can sort?” I ask Indie, putting down the map and pretending I haven’t decoded it yet.
“I’ve been listening,” she says. And then she leans forward. With the two of us sitting in the glow of the flashlight, it seems like the rest of the world has gone black and I’m left alo
ne with her and what she thinks of me. “I know who you are.” She leans even closer. “And who you’re supposed to be.”
“Who am I supposed to be?” I ask her. I don’t lean away. She smiles.
“The Pilot,” she says.
I laugh and sit back. “No. What about that poem you told Cassia? That talks about a woman being the Pilot.”
“It’s not a poem,” Indie says fiercely.
“A song,” I say, realizing. “The words used to have music behind them.” I should have known.
Indie exhales in frustration. “It doesn’t matter how the Pilot comes or if it’s a woman or a man. The idea is the same. I understand that now.”
“I’m still not the Pilot.”
“You are,” she says. “You don’t want to be, so you’re running away from the Rising. Someone needs to bring you back to the rebellion. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“The Rising isn’t what you imagine,” I say. “It’s not Aberrations and Anomalies and rebels and rogues running free. It’s a structure. A system.”
She shrugs. “Whatever it is, I want to be part of it. I’ve been thinking about it my whole life.”
“If you think this will take us to the Rising, why give it to me?” I ask Indie, holding up the map. “Why not give it right to Cassia?”
“We’re the same,” she whispers. “You and me. We’re more alike than you and Cassia. We could leave right now.”
She’s right. I do see myself in Indie. I feel a pity so deep for her that it might be something else entirely. Empathy. You have to believe in something to survive. She’s picked the Rising. I chose Cassia.
Indie’s been quiet for a long time. Hiding. Running. On the move. I put my hand next to hers. I don’t touch her fingers. But she can see the marks on them. I have scars from living here the first time that no Citizen of the Society would have.